Eliza Cathy and her mum (Norma Waterson and her lass.)

I am off work today, and supposed to be cutting the grass, but this has been rather defeated by the fact that the mower is broken, and there is a storm raging outside.

But today a new album arrived through the post- this one

First listening- love it. Sumptuous folk vocals relax into one another, whilst the backing (Dad Martin Simpson, Danny Thompson on double bass, Oliver Knight on cello- what could go wrong there?) is lovely.

It is English folk at it’s best- traditional, unpretentious, emotional and beautiful.

This kind of music is sometimes difficult to hear for those of us who have been schooled on soft pop and American ubiquitous R and B. It certainly divides my friends.

But it plugs me into something deep and important.

Here is a flavour (not of the album but of some of the family)-

BBC iPlayer – Transatlantic Sessions: Series 3: Episode 2

I am just sitting with a glass of wine, flicking between the cricket (we might actually win this one!) and the sublime ‘transatlantic sessions’ on BBC4.

A long weekend beckons, with plans to canoe and camp, and I have just eaten well with my lovely wife.

Life does not get much better, so I thought I would share the love…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

An argument for folk music…


I have a love of folk music.

There I said it.

In some circles it is a confession that leaves a bad smell. I hope that this is less so than it used to be- people seem to be more eclectic in their tastes these days. But the dominance of mass produced music packaged up with an airbrushed image remains, despite the apparent freedoms brought by the internet.

I like most folk music- even some of the finger-in-the-ear-quavery-voice kind. I think I like it because it carries something authentic along with it- the real voices of generations past and present. Seen this way, folk music is a chance to reflect on who we are, and were we come from.

Here are a couple of quotes pinched from the English Acoustic Collective’s website.

Kazuo Ishiguro
“The way I see it is like this … There is this kind of treasure chest you have sitting in front of you, and if you were American or perhaps Irish you might have opened it by now, but because you live here it probably hasn’t occurred to you to do so yet. Well, I would urge you to open that thing up and delve inside it, because I believe you’ll find there a sublime vision of life in the British Isles at it has been lived over the last few centuries; and it’s the kind of vision that you can’t readily get from the works of say, Dickens or Shakespeare or Elgar or Sir Christopher Wren. If you don’t open that treasure box I think you are going to miss a certain dimension, a whole dimension of cultural life in this country so I urge you to do it.”
Speaking at the 2003 BBC Folk Awards, London

Dr John Sentamu
“What is it to be English? It is a very serious question. The English are somehow embarrassed about some of the good things they have done. Multiculturalism has seemed to imply, wrongly for me, ‘Let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains’. A failure to rediscover English culture would fuel greater political extremism.”
Speaking before his enthronement as Archbishop of York, November 2005


I have blogged before about this thing called Englishness– how it has become a word that belongs to football supporters and a particularly loathsome kind of politician. Folk music connects me with another older England- which for the sake of differentiation, I have decided to call Albion.

Albion has roots that go deep into these rocky islands. And for centuries, around the camp fire,

and the haystacks,

and the factory floors,

and the shipyards,

and the old folks homes,

and the nurseries,

and the churches-

The people of Albion have been singing. Singing of their loves and sorrows, of injustice and of good food and wine, celebrating their hero’s- otherwise lost to history. Pricking the pomposity of those in power.

It is the poetry of the people, transmitted on a tune from town to town.

It may be speak of a version of ourselves that is overly romanticised and be shaped by unreliable oral traditions, but for all of that, the voices are real.

I love the folk from other places- where it is often valued more- but most of all, I love the voices of old Albion…

And for those Scottish friends of mine who think that I am forsaking my chosen place of residence, as well as my Irish roots- remember that the old word for Scotland (and parts of Ireland), ALBA- also comes from the word Albion. We share more than would seperate us, we children of these islands.

So, time for a bit of music I reckon…

And I reckon, in this wide world of wonders- there should always be room for the odd bit of Morris Dancing.

Englishness, marmite and folk music…

Here’s a bit of cockney folk-punk raconteur Billy Bragg, backed by a selection of brilliant musicians- including guitar genius Martin Carthy, and Chris Wood, he with the ‘dark brown voice’.

It manages to combine some stuff that says something right and true about being from a particular English tradition. One that is unsure of itself, and even if it has some awareness of it’s roots, is not static, but takes and incorporates from other cultures, and becomes something new…

And despite all the Empire Building and oppressing.

Despite the dark satanic mills and the miners strike.

Despite the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Poll Tax.

Despite the Spinning Jenny and the Enclosure Acts

Despite Margaret Thatcher and the death of ideology

England is still a wonderful place.

And because the sound quality of the last one was rubbish- here is a bit more from the collective of musicians called ‘The imagined village.’

Finally, from the same collection- a slice of Benjamin Zephaniniah which gathers some more ideas of Englishness…

Jordon is a hard road to travel I believe…

Here is a piece of folk music played on all sorts of different instruments- including some virtuoso frying pan bashing…

I love the fact that eclectic eccentric music like this can find airtime- thanks to the Jules Holland programme on the good old BBC.

Folk music gets some bad press with some. But good music is good no matter what genre it anchors itself within. And for me- folk songs are our connection with where we came from- the music of working people of preceding generations.

This song has a strange beginning- it was thought to be written by a man called Dan Emmett, who performed it in 1850’s New York, where despite the controversy around slavery, white performers who blacked their faces as negro minstrels were very popular.

But like many folk songs, it was adapted and changed to speak to the times. It was sung by soldiers fighting and dying in the American Civil war, and by others since asking questions about the nature of life and suffering, and hoping for a better future- this side of Jordan, and the next.

I like this version of the words- not quite the same as those sung by Bellowhead on the clip below.

I looked in the East, I looked in the West,
For Fortune a chance to me accordin’,
But Fortune is a blind god flyin’ in the clouds,
Forgettin’ me on this side of Jordan.
Pull off your old coat, and roll up your sleeves,
Jordon is a hard road to travel I believes.

Thunder in the clouds, and lightening in the trees,
Shelter to my head no leaf affordin’,
Battered by the hailstones, beaten by the breeze;
Th’s my lot on this side o’ Jordan.
Pull off your old coat, etc.

Silver spoons to some mouths, golden spoons to others,
Providence unequally awardin’,
Dash it! – tho’ they tells us all of us be brothers;
Don’t see it clearly, this side of Jordan.
Pull off your old coat, etc.

Like a ragged owlet, with its wings expanded,
Nailed against a garden door or hoardin’,
That am I, by good folk, as a rascal branded;
Never hurted none o’ this side Jordan.
Pull off your old coat, etc.

Aloft a pretty cherub, patchin’ up o’ blunders,
My troubles and distresses is recordin’,
Will there come a whirlabout? better times I wonders,
E’en to me, on t’other side o’ Jordan?
Pull off your old coat, etc.